Life as Laundry: Mismatched socks and irreconcilable colors

Everyone had an opinion. Friends, family, people in Publix—there didn’t appear to be a neutral individual anywhere. The barrage of viewpoints was a gift (although it didn’t seem so at the time). I felt forced to justify my decision to go—at least when it was someone close, like my mother. Eventually, I moved past that to a sort of neutrality, a place where I could take in the objections and support and not have either disrupt my center.

The intervening days were a jumble of feelings and activities: planning a rudimentary will and funeral (just in case); struggling to integrate the terrible reality revealed in the PBS program, Haiti: Killing the Dream; attempting to find suitable answers for those who questioned my decision to go; buying granola bars and water; getting inoculations, antimalarials, and antibiotics; begging for supplies to distribute—everything from t-shirts to toothbrushes; juggling local media exposure—four TV stations, three newspapers, and several radio stations; and, of course, collecting the necessary funds to make the trip.

Fundraising was a major concern. Where to come up with $800? I put in my birthday money. I even successfully approached the bishop for a contribution. Much of the rest of it was begged from friends, associates, and unlucky passersby. Every group I’d ever been a member of or invited to join heard from me in my attempts to solicit funds. Fanatical desperation knows no dignity.

But, overall, it was six weeks’ worth of grinding uncertainly coupled with a continued lack of specific forthcoming information from the national organization. In the meantime, I went to work every day and attempted to live my life.

Finally, on October 9th, I wrote in my journal: “There was a message on the answering machine from Wilfrid at Pax Christi U.S.A. The news is we will be staying at the Haitian Catholic Center in Miami for orientation, then, flying by American Airlines to Haiti. Wilfrid will be mailing out a packet of information on Monday—detailed info on medical preventatives, visa stuff, etc.”

Nothing arrived so I called PC-USA again on the 13th. I spoke to Tom and was able to find out where we would be staying in Port-au-Prince, the administrators’ names, and telephone numbers. And, I continued to do research on Haiti—including reading all the clipped newspaper articles in the Vertical File at the College library—run errands and, finally, fill out paperwork. But, I was still antsy and continued to get on everyone’s nerves. Unfortunately, I didn’t seem to be able to do anything about it.

On the 15th, I recorded: “My mother called this evening and said she and Daddy were sending me $100 for spending money. She said they had no idea how much it meant to me, how excited I was. They are now supporting me, as well.

“Up until this time, the only support my mother has offered was lighting a 7-day candle at the parish church in my home town. My mother was angry with me for putting myself so recklessly in harm’s way. She thought that my obligations to my husband, Aaron, our daughter, Vickie, and especially to our granddaughter, Katherine, were far more important than this hare-brained scheme of mine. Her protest of my decision has been to refuse all financial assistance.

“My father is living in a nursing home at this point. Several minor but incapacitating strokes have rendered him physically weak, and his mind is no longer the keen instrument it once was. It is often difficult for me to talk to him because I can never tell for certain how much he understands. Evidently, he understood more of the phone conversation we had a few nights ago than I thought he had at the time. The change of heart in their financial support my mother informed me of this evening was one they reached jointly—I have no doubt of it.”

It was also interesting to note my parents’ feelings about the Berrigan Brothers were beginning to change—a prime example of how personal experience can alter generalized conclusions and feelings. Mother and Daddy had honest reasons for not respecting these men. My parents’ whole premise of life was different—the one being a real threat to the beliefs of the other. But, because of the personal kindness and concern that Father Daniel Berrigan had shown me at the retreat the previous spring and his subsequent offer to introduce me to his personal physician when he later found out that I was in all likelihood losing my eyesight due to MS, my mother and father had begun to see these brothers as real individuals instead of pasteboard ideograms. By the time Father Berrigan helped me through those final days with Ted, my mother loved and respected him almost I much as I did.”

And, then on October 21, my father died.